The second installment of my travelogue from the past.
From Istanbul I took the overnight bus to Cappadocia. There is apparently a rule in Turkey that a man cannot sit next to a woman he does not know. Given my Istanbul tea and carpet experiences I certainly understood, but I imagine this rule often ends up creating some hilarity as it did with me. On the bus a man sat down next to me. When the bus captain noticed he went in search of a suitable candidate to switch with him. I was the only foreigner on the bus. He found an old woman in the front of the bus, and convinced her, VERY reluctantly to switch with the guy. As I watched the woman muttering her way towards me with a gait that suggested a walk to the electric chair, I was not feeling so enthusiastic either. Especially as she reminded me of the witch from Hansel and Gretel and I expected her to want to put me in the cookie oven too, her obvious disgust at having to sit next to me plain as day on her pasty face. Then her daughter, who looked remarkably like the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz, came back and in a grumpy sort of passion drama dragged her poor mother back to the front of the bus, leaving the seat next to me empty and much confusion as the whole bus keenly observed the unfolding events. No one wanted to sit next to me.
After much discussion in the front of the bus a young woman with her child came to sit with me. When I saw them coming, I thought oh good, oh wait, no, not TWO! But yes. It seems quite common to save money by buying one seat for mother and child, even when the child is 10 years old, as was in this case. But they turned out to be quiet seat mates. The problem instead were the two women seated behind me, with their two children, probably 5 or 6 years old, on their laps. They complained bitterly about me putting my seat back because they had children and they would be unable to sleep. As if it is my fault they bought two seats for four people! So, the kids kicked my chair, I think at the instigation of the mothers, while they pretended to scold them. But I did not relent. I was boxed in, but no way was I going to sleep at 90 degrees on an overnight bus if I could put my seat back.
My favorite part of Turkey is Cappadocia. One may find Greek ruins in a number of places, and beautiful beaches crowded with holiday goers are even more aplenty, but Cappadocia, is really a one of a kind place. In all the countries I have been, I have not been anywhere else quite like it. Some places of the American Midwest might come close to it, but not quite. The Midwest in my mind has hues of red, but Cappadocia is all white and cream and dusty. The bizarre rock formations created over eons by water and wind are not to be found in the American midwest. Top that off with underground Christian cities and cave dwellings and churches and you are starting to realize the wonders of Cappadocia. Smack dab in the middle of Turkey, it seems to rise, or rather fall, from the Earth suddenly from the highway. First you are looking out a bus window at flat plains and farmland, suddenly there is a volcano in the distance, snow covered, and then the Earth seems to fall into valleys and cliffs and fairy chimneys and desert brush. Then you have reached Cappadocia.
Strangely this is all I wrote about Cappadocia, this favorite location. I stayed in a cave hotel, my room built into the rock face, the floor covered in thick Turkish carpets, a low table for tea. For the first and last time, I had a small radio with me and I can remember catching BBC World broadcasts in my cozy cave room. I took a tour around the area. I took my first hot air balloon ride and succumbed to the charms of my hot air balloon pilot, remaining in Cappadocia several extra days with him. I took tours of the area during the day or walked the town and shopped and hung out with the pilot when his work day finished. But he wanted to give up traveling, my upcoming return to graduate school, and move to Turkey. That was not to my liking.
From Cappadocia I joined a three-day tour further east. We stopped at Maras where Turkey’s famous ice cream originates; it is a sticky hard concoction of heavy goat cream with the consistency of frozen cream cheese, hard enough that it had to be cut with a fork and knife, but soft enough to melt lazily in one’s mouth. And on top was sprinkled shaved green pistachio. It was delicious and yet there was something I did not quite like about it. I think it might have been how very heavy it was. Like a rock it lay in my stomach, its overly cold temperature gave me those chilly ice cream headaches down my spine.
We headed to the 7,000-foot-high Mount Nemrut, where the enigmatic stone heads of King Antiochus’ ruined temple dedicated to himself stands. We stayed in Kahta for the night, waking up at 2:30 am to leave the hotel by 3 am, to arrive at the summit for sunrise. The sunrise was a small disappointment as it just popped up suddenly from behind the mountains where it had been hiding. At least the sun did pierce the bitter cold of a mountain morning. There was little temple left, but its ruinous state made those pieces still relatively intact all the more amazing. It is indeed a beautiful location, fuzzy brown grass covered hills rolling all around and not much civilization in sight, except for all us tourists crawling all over the mountain. King Antiochus, created a cult of personality around himself, claiming that he was both a descendant of King Darius of Persia and Alexander the Great of Macedonia, thus manufacturing himself a perfect lineage of East and West. We were also able to see a fantastic stone relief of this king’s father shaking hands with Heracles, at Antiochus’ father’s tomb, over the entrance in beautiful Greek the inscription could still read almost as clear as day. It was amazing.
It was a whirlwind day with Nemrut mountain and then Ataturk Dam, then on to Sanliurfa, a biblical town, perhaps one of the oldest towns in the world. Historical/ biblical sites are all around the town with the legendary pool of sacred fish perhaps the one with the most draw. King Nimrod attempted to cast Abraham into a fire but the fire turned to water and the wood to fish. The fish remain, hundreds of them. They are holy fish, it is said if someone eats them they will be blinded. So, they are fat and happy fish. Sanliurfa is a place of pilgrimage for many people, especially from Syria and Iran.
Lastly, we visited the bee hive houses of Harran, an ancient commercial center just 16 kilometers north of the Syrian border. The architectural style of these adobe homes has remained unchanged for about 3,000 years. The dark brown clay houses with thin chimneys, which lend them the bee hive name, are cool inside, that was especially good since it was broiling outside. There was also a ruined fortress through which some local children guided me and two Turkish sisters. We were supposed to stay for the sunset there, but for some reason the guide made the decision to head back to Urfa early. This was actually only one of many, many changes the guide kept making, and it was actually starting to wear on my nerves.
My tour guide, old enough to be my father, maybe even a grandfather, took a “special” liking to me. Probably as I was a single woman traveling on my own, but that is a poor excuse for his behavior. On the first evening when we arrived in Kahta he tells me it would be better if we would share a room. What? I mean, why? He tells me that the three Turkish sisters and one daughter will have a room, as will the other two Turkish sisters and the Dutch couple, that leaves me, the driver, him, and the Japanese guy. Uh, yeah. So where does this lead me to think that Mr. Guide and I should be sharing a room? I ask him why he doesn’t share with the driver. He says the driver will not be coming with us to Nemrut in the early morning and he doesn’t want to wake him, so he needs his own room. Uh, right. So why ask me and not the Japanese guy? I tell the guide I just don’t think it is a good idea, I really should have my own room (after all I did pay for it you jerk!). I was really upset by this lack of professionalism and the fact I had two more days with this guy. And no one else on the tour seemed to have noticed these advances.
The second night he asks if I would like to walk to Abraham’s pool with him. I tell him I am tired. He tells me it will take just 10 minutes to get there, maybe 30 minutes total round trip. I again say I am tired; he insists it is something special to see at night. I think, “Why should I not see this lovely place at night with the pool backlit and all the families strolling alongside it because of this guy? When will I be in Urfa again?” I agree to go for a little while. The pool is lovely in the evening. The lit arches of the 800-year old Halilur Rahman Mosque reflect in the waters. But on the way back to the hotel he tries to hold my hand. Creep! I sort of freeze up and my hand goes limp and cold. He drops my hand, and continues showing me some special things about the city on the way back, a mosque, the special way the balconies are built, but now I don’t care, I only want to get back to the hotel. We should have had a half day to explore Urfa on our own, but we didn’t, because he changed the schedule.
No incidents on the way back to Istanbul, but now I am bristling. It is a real shame that such a lovely trip had to be ruined because this guy. Not only the harassment, but he did not stick to the original itinerary so he could rush back and meet another tour group. Still, I wanted to get back. I had a 10 pm night bus to Olympos to catch.